The Atlantic

The Ugly History of Dual-Loyalty Charges

Ilhan Omar recently deployed an accusation that’s been used against religious minorities for years.
Source: Jim Mone / AP

When Representative Ilhan Omar recently complained about “the political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” many noted accurately that she had deployed a trope—dual loyalty—that had been used against Jews for years.

But this accusation has a broader history in the United States, having been used against several religious minorities—including Muslims like Omar. Indeed, many battles over religious freedom have revolved around dual-loyalty claims.

[Read: Ilhan Omar just made it harder to have a nuanced debate about Israel]

In the 19th century, many attacks on Catholics stressed that these immigrants were pawns of a foreign power. In the 1830s, Samuel Morse—then a prominent painter and later the inventor of the telegraph—urged Americans to build “walls” and “gates” to keep out—“halt, and blind, and naked”—they were easy to control. With their “darkened intellects,” they “obey their priests as demigods.” The Vatican could deploy these “senseless machines” to seize power in America.

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